Addicted to Vole

Earworms are bad enough. But this meme might ruin your pop-listening life for ever

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

Earworm: what a wonderful word. It describes, as nothing else quite can, the effect a really invasive melody can have on your consciousness. Hear the song once and you will hear it again and again, on a loop in your brain. At the pub quiz the other night, the answer to a question was Brotherhood of Man, and at least two of us subsequently suffered the torture of hearing ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ in our heads for the rest of the evening. I don’t usually think of myself as Drinking To Forget, but this evening might have been an exception.

So are people who love pop music more susceptible to earworms, or are people who are susceptible to earworms more likely to love pop music? I’m not sure, although I suspect that extreme susceptibility may actually help you to come to hate the music in all its forms. The earworm, after all, was the essence not only of Brotherhood of Man’s victory at Eurovision (in 1976), but of most others of the 1960s and 1970s, too, and it could be argued that Britain’s long era of failure in that competition began when we stopped entering songs that drove you to the edge and sometimes pushed you over into the depthless pit below. But susceptibility, I think, is the key. If your mind works in a certain way, it’s all you can do to defend yourself against ‘Get Lucky’ or ‘Blurred Lines’ or, more recently, Pharrell Williams’s ‘Happy’, which I still think is a wonderful song, while acknowledging that I might not feel so well disposed towards it in six months’ time.

I chanced upon another facet of all this the other day when reading an old column of Simon Hoggart’s in the Guardian. (This flat is full of caches of old newspapers that I haven’t got round to reading and no one has yet found and put out for recycling.) In it he recounts a car journey with the librettist and wag Richard Stilgoe, who remarks that there are very few songs that could not be improved by inserting the word ‘Hove’ for ‘love’. As in, ‘I’m In The Mood For Hove’ or ‘Hove Is All Around’, or indeed ‘Hove Is The Sweetest Thing’.

He is, of course, correct in every sense, but there is a curious correspondence here, for my brain has for a long time been doing something similar, which is to flip around the letters of the word ‘love’ to make ‘vole’. You play me Elton John’s ‘Part Time Love’ and I hear ‘Part Time Vole’. It’s a completely different song, clearly, as is ‘I’m In The Mood For Vole’, as who of us hasn’t been from time to time? An earworm, after all, is just a type of meme, which is any thought that multiplies itself in your mind and gradually takes over all your cognitive processes. Like Hove, vole only works as a noun: ‘Tell Laura I Vole Her’ makes no sense at all. But once you start this, it’s hard to stop. ‘All You Need Is Vole’. Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted To Vole’. 10cc’s bestial classic, ‘I’m Not In Vole’, or Donna Summer’s gentler ‘I Feel Vole’. The Searchers’ great hit, ‘Don’t Throw Your Vole Away’.

I realise now that I have lived with this for years. The Mindbenders’ ‘Groovy Kind Of Vole’. (Would Phil Collins have recorded it again years later if it had been called that?) I’m a bit concerned by Leona Lewis’s ‘Bleeding Vole’, but some songs actually make more sense this way, such as Madonna’s ‘Justify My Vole’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Vole A Bad Name’. One or two put entire careers into perspective, such as Barry White’s ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Vole, Babe’, or Meat Loaf’s wholly reasonable ‘I’d Do Anything For Vole (But I Won’t Do That)’. You might call it a crazy little thing called vole.

Why haven’t I mentioned this before? Shame, partly, and also a sense of higher responsibility, for memes are nothing if not contagious. It would be a terrible shame if, the next time the Supremes song came on the radio, all you could hear was ‘Where Did Our Vole Go?’. No one needs their mental space invaded by silly vole songs. How wise and prescient Paul McCartney turns out to have been. I feel I know exactly what he was writing about, even if he didn’t.

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  • hammy__hamster

    As The Miracles nearly put it, you’re just a vole machine.

  • Paul Coupar

    This reminds me of Joe Simpson’s tale of mountaineering disaster, Touching the Void, in which he is plagued by an earworm while lying critically ill, becoming convinced he is going to die to the unwelcome sound of ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’.